SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Lawmakers fighting California Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to steer water south to farmers and cities through a pair of tunnels introduced legislation Friday to bring the $15 billion project to voters first.
Backed by a group of legislators from Northern California and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta - the proposed site of the twin 30-mile long tunnels - the bill would require all water diversion projects from the Sacramento River and the delta to first pass a statewide vote.
The author of the bill, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, said Brown's tunnels project is just a rebranded version of a plan that voters shot down in 1982 while he was also in office, and that voters should have a say in the plan dubbed the "California Water Fix."
"It's tragic that despite our ongoing drought this flawed plan is being forced on us without any true debate, even though it will not add one drop of water to California's supply but it will raise the water rates and potentially property taxes of millions of Californians," Eggman said in a statement.
Brown's contentious plan to divert water from the largest freshwater estuary on the West Coast has been bashed by environmentalists and delta communities who say the tunnels will further damage the lifeline of California's water supply.
The delta supplies water to an estimated 25 million Californians and is the main source of water for the state's $54 billion agricultural industry.
Opponents claim the project won't create more water and instead adds pressure on the delta, which has seen salmon populations plummet during the state's recent drought.
Brown has made the tunnels project a focus of his fourth and final term as governor, touting the plan frequently during public appearances. His office says the plan is vital to upgrading California's aging water-system infrastructure - largely the legacy of his father, former Gov. Pat Brown - and that the tunnels would efficiently deliver water to Central Valley farmers and water-starved Southern California.
Last week while giving the annual State of the State address , Brown said water "goes to the heart of what California is" and that "pitting fish against farmer misses the point and grossly distorts reality."
If Eggman's bill hurdles the state houses and lands on Brown's desk, the Democratic governor could choose to veto the legislation.
But while the bill's prospects may ultimately lie in Brown's hands, voters could still have the opportunity to nix public funding for the tunnels project this coming November. Opponents of the tunnels project have successfully registered a ballot measure requiring voter approval on public-works projects that are funded with bonds over $2 billion.
Decades ago in Brown's first go-round as governor of the Golden State, Californians overwhelmingly voted down his initial delta-diversion plan, with 62 percent voting against Proposition 9. Voters largely split along geographic lines, with Northern Californians decidedly against the "Peripheral Canal Act."
Eggman's proposal has the support of various Northern Californian lawmakers including Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis.
"The proposed tunnels are the most expensive, most controversial water project proposed in half a century with the potential to permanently destroy the delta's ecosystem and community," Wolk said in a statement. "Californians have the right to look at the facts and decide whether the tunnels are good for California, or whether we should drop this plan once and for all."
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